Three years ago Highland High School teacher Chris Durbin wanted to find out why there were so few female students interested in the school’s technology club, an after-school program that allowed students interested in mathematics, engineering and science studies to work on projects.
He turned to the small number of female students in the club for answers, who surprised him with their answer.
“I asked the few girls we had in the program ‘why can’t we get more girls involved in the program, what can we do?” Durbin said. “They said they were stigmatized and that it was difficult to have the courage to join.”
From the conversation, the GEMS were born, a girls-only STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) based club. In its first year, the club attracted 35 female students who quickly began working on different projects focused on those fields of study.
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Three years later the Highland High Girls Engineering Mathematics and Science (GEMS) club are planning their largest project yet.
Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1, the club will host the school’s first-ever Energy Exhibition, an expo focused on how alternative energy companies would handle situations created by natural disasters.
The expo will see the GEMS team up with energy-producing companies throughout the metro area to teach students more about renewable and alternative energy sources. Durbin said the symposium-like event will offer an “in-school” field trip for students throughout the school district.
The expo will be open just for the school district Nov. 30, but will be open to the public on Dec. 1, with the expectation of an outside crowd coming to visit the high school’s expo.
The expo will feature more than seven energy companies from the area including Reagent Power President Laura Jones, an advocate and mentor to the club, Ameren Illinois, Southern Illinois Solar owners and many more.
Communications Director and treasurer of the GEMS Elise Larose, who has had a hand in planning the expo, said the club hopes to attract more energy companies and projects.
LaRose, a sophomore, said her interest in engineering came from growing up in a family on engineers. She said the club gave her and the other GEMS members a place of their own where they could build, experiment and research all the things they want, without the stigma.
Coming from a family of engineers and engineer-minded people made the GEMS a perfect club for LaRose. She said having a club that empowers women to work in the STEM field is a big boost for girls who want are interested in that area of study.
The club meets every Wednesday after school to work on its many projects and contests. LaRose said the past few months have centered around sending emails and making phone calls to attract more companies to participate in the expo.
She said the experience will better prepare her for the real world.
“Its kind of like running before you walk,” LaRose said. “I think it’s going to help a lot.”
The expo, she hopes, will show off what Highland students are capable of. She said the fact that it focuses on renewable energy, one of her major interests, is a big bonus too.
“We’re looking forward to making a good impression for Highland High School. We have a lot of well-educated students,” LaRose said. “I really want to educate the community as well. I’m big on saving the environment and renewable energy is the perfect way to do that.”
The expo will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and will be located in The Kennel, the high school’s multipurpose room.